Two decades later, 7,000 words on a dispute at LA student paper *

Cynthia Rawitch recently in her CSUN office. Jason Gallaher / Daily Sundial

Back in the 1980s, James Taranto — today the editor of at the Wall Street Journal — was a news editor at the Daily Sundial, the student newspaper at Cal State University Northridge. He was a conservative even then and published a cartoon about affirmative action that had been controversial at cross-town campus UCLA. Using the cartoon in the Daily Sundial back then led to Taranto's suspension from the paper — the two sides disagree to this day on why he was suspended — and a court case that ended with a settlement in which he was reinstated. For 20 years, apparently, Taranto has been waiting to disgorge at length his side of what happened — so he wrote 7,300 words for the online WSJ timed to the upcoming retirement from CSUN of the faculty publisher who suspended him, Cynthia Rawitch. Taranto calls her his "anti-mentor."

Here's a sample of his piece:

The left-liberal elite that attained cultural dominance between the 1960s and the 1980s--and that since 2008 has seen itself as being on the cusp of political dominance as well--is undergoing a crisis of authority, and its defenses are increasingly ferocious and unprincipled. Journalists lie or ignore important but politically uncongenial stories. Scientists suppress alternative hypotheses. Political organizations bully apolitical charities. The Internal Revenue Service persecutes dissenters. And campus censorship goes on still.

Our suspension from the Sundial was a disillusioning experience. If you'd asked us before it happened to characterize our political views, we'd have said libertarian. We were on the side of the "left," we thought, when it came to questions of personal freedom, especially freedom of expression. It turned out the left wasn't necessarily on our side. Liberals could be shockingly illiberal.

Yet to become disillusioned is to confront, or to be confronted by, the truth. Our long-ago conflict over a college newspaper is trifling by comparison with the subjects we usually write about in this column. But that experience informs our work. It helped us develop both a skepticism of authority and the boldness to challenge it. The lessons we learned have helped us to understand and think hopefully about events that might otherwise seem senseless or dispiriting. The Daily Sundial was the best laboratory experience this aspiring journalist could have hoped for, and Cynthia Rawitch was a worthy adversary. May her retirement be happy, healthy and long.

Except that Rawitch remembers it differently. Politics and political correctness had nothing to do with what went down at CSUN in the 1980s, she says via email.

Writing more than 7,000 words about an event that took place in college nearly 25 years ago seems to represent a level of obsession that I can't understand. James leaves out a number of salient facts because they don't fit the narrative he recalls. The most important of these is that he was suspended for two weeks because he ignored a direct order from the Editor-in-Chief the night before not to run the cartoon. She then left for the evening, and he ran it anyway. She, of course, had the authority and final word as to what went into the newspaper. It was left to me after the fact to suspend him. He never remembers that part. In any event, I was acting as a representative of the Department of Journalism, which is the publisher of the Daily Sundial. I choose not to further rehash these old, tired and partly misleading allegations.

Rawitch at the time was a journalism professor and the paper's publisher. She will retire Aug. 20 as the campus vice provost.

I haven't looked into the facts of any of this — just passing it all along. But I should say that I have known Rawitch since taking one of her editing classes at CSUN in the mid 1970s, and for that matter I was for a short time the managing editor of the Daily Sundial before she became the publisher. Rawitch has worked also at Associated Press and edited for the Los Angeles Times.

* Added: Taranto responds online, and so does the Daily Sundial alumni community on Facebook. Update

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